Logo for the Mapping Project

The Mapping Project

AFL-CIO (Massachusetts)

The AFL-CIO has a long history of supporting Zionism and US imperialism within the labor movement, as well as offering union protection to racist police forces.

AFL-CIO nationally

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), along with its constituent unions, has a long history of support for Israel and regularly refers to the Zionist Histadrut as a partner organization (see, e.g., "Labor Union Chiefs Promise to Support Israel's Histadrut," The New York Times, 14 Oct. 1973: 17). The AFL-CIO's support for Israel and the Histadrut can be seen as an outgrowth of its own roots in labor organizing among white settler colonists of the US (see discussion of AFL and CIO precursors below).

The AFL and the CIO merged in 1955 under the leadership of George Meany, former president of the AFL. The origins of the merger can already be seen in 1949, in the AFL's call for a new international federation against communism and in support of Truman's post-WWII expansion of US empire ("Green sails to aid world free labor: A.F.L. call the new federation barrier to reds, C.I.O. joins in founding it," The New York Times, Nov. 20, 1949). Meany worked closely over the years with the Jewish Labor Committee (see separate entry) and threw the support of US labor behind Zionism. (See the official AFL-CIO biography, which contains the ridiculous juxtaposition "speaking out against colonial exploitation of the developing world, supporting the state of Israel", linked here; see also: "Meany early pioneer with Jewish labor as staunchly pro-Israel," Gross, David C. The New York Jewish Week, 20 Jan 1980: 28.)

The AFL-CIO continued the AFL's policy of supporting US imperialism by colonizing foreign labor, establishing a series of overseas training centers with funding and support from the US government under the auspices of USAID and the covert involvement of the CIA: the American Institute for Free Labor Development (Western Hemisphere); the Asian-American Free Labor Institute (Asia); and the African-American Labor Center (Africa).

The AFL-CIO's overseas institutes worked to undermine anti-imperialist, radical, and communist movements within organized labor, promoting instead a narrow economic agenda and a bureaucratic union culture. On their activities in South Africa, Kenneth Mokoena wrote that the AALC's trainings were aimed at developing union leaders "who emphasize working conditions, not politics, who promote business, who don't promote nationalization, and who definitely don't emphasize labor dominance over business" (quoted in Sims, Beth. Workers of the World Undermined: American Labor's Role in US Foreign Policy. South End Press, 1992: p. 72). Hundreds of thousands of union members participated in AFL-CIO in-country trainings in Central America, Africa, and Asia. Select leaders were also given grants and travel expenses to be trained at US institutions, including the Harvard Trade Union Program (ibid, p. 73): (see separate entry on the Harvard Trade Union Program).

The AFL-CIO and the Israeli Histadrut also jointly created the Afro-Asian Institute for Labor Studies and Cooperation in Tel-Aviv, a destination for students from across Asia and Africa, building ties to Israel ("A Labor School Opens in Israel: Institute Attracts Students of Asian-African Nations--Aided by U.S. Unions," The New York Times, Oct. 19, 1960).

In 1995, the AFL-CIO merged its overseas centers into the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, which continues to receive much of its funding from the US government (USAID, the US Department of State, the US Department of Labor, and the US-funded National Endowment for Democracy; see here). The Solidarity Center claims to work in 60 countries and claims to reach more than 1,000,000 people every year.

The AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions also have an ongoing history of direct financial investments in Israel through Israel bonds, as well as in military, technological, and extractive industries connected both to Israel and to US imperialism ("Israel Bonds raises 130m from US labor," Buzzy Gordon, Jerusalem Post, 14 July 2001: 11; for corporate investments, as a representative example, AFSCME Employees pension plan Form 5500 for 2020 shows substantial investments in Amazon, Boeing, Caterpillar, Dow Chemical, Dupont, GE, General Dynamics, HP, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Pfizer, Plains American Pipeline, Shell, and many others; see here).

In 2007, the presidents of the AFL-CIO and several of its constituent unions signed on to a letter drafted by the Jewish Labor Committee opposing BDS.

The Unity Intifada in the spring of 2021 provoked renewed popular action in the US, including a significant increase in local union resolutions breaking with Zionism and declaring solidarity with Palestinians. In September of 2021, the AFL-CIO attempted to curb this movement by disciplining one of its locals and blocking a vote by San Francisco Labor Council to support BDS (see: here).

During periods of intense Zionist aggression, a typical pro-Israel tactic of the AFL-CIO and its constituent unions has been to deflect public outrage away from solidarity with Palestinians and towards putative "partners for peace in Israel" or for "the peace process," refocusing opposition narrowly against the actions of sitting right-wing Israeli governments (see for example: here and here).

Consistent with its racist history within the US colonial settler state, the AFL-CIO also allows affiliation by police unions, as well as membership of police in constituent unions such as AFSCME. In the aftermath of the uprising against racist police violence in the summer of 2020, rather than following community demands to disaffiliate police and withdraw the shield of union protection from killer cops (see for example: here, here, and here), the AFL-CIO convened its own special "task force," placing the task of reform in the hands of the same police unions that have systematically defended their own members.

AFSCME has been especially egregious in organizing police and supporting police unions, and participates in pro-cop propaganda efforts such as the National Police Week celebration. In an attempt to undercut rank and file demands to disaffiliate police after the summer of 2020, AFSCME passed a union resolution supporting police reform and specifically opposing disaffiliation. Although the AFSCME resolution mentions reducing "funding for programs that militarize public safety," AFSCME's practice as a union has continued to be business as usual. In their review of legislative attempts to reduce the police arsenal in New Mexico, Austin Fischer and David Correia document AFSCME's role in gutting provisions that would have banned chemical weapons, rubber bullets, and police attack dogs. Fischer and Correia write, "While the rest of the union movement is working to expel police from their unions because police have never been in solidarity with working people, AFSCME is working to defend the police arsenal and the ability of cops and jailers to use violence however they see fit."

On the racist, colonial histories of the AFL and the CIO

Historically, the American Federation of Labor (the AFL-CIO's main organizational precursor) supported affiliation for "whites only" unions. New Afrikans (Black people in the US), Asians, and many other groups were systematically excluded from its constituent unions. Although the AFL and its leaders sometimes spoke in favor of organizing New Afrikan workers, appeals to the Federation to force integration in its constituent unions consistently failed (see the chapter, The AFL and the Black Worker, in The Black Worker, v. 6. Edited by Philip S. Foner and Ronald L. Lewis. Temple University Press, 1981, linked here).

At the beginning of the 20th Century, the AFL spread white-supremacist, anti-Asian hatred in support of laws banning Chinese people from immigrating to the US and banning Asian residents from employment. A representative example is their statement before the US Senate in 1902, "Some Reasons for Chinese Exclusion: Meat vs. Rice, American Manhood against Asiatic Cooleisim."

Even outside the borders of the colonial settler state, the AFL has worked to protect exclusive access to jobs for "US citizens" only (e.g. "Unions Urging Citizen Labor in Canal Zone," New York Herald Tribune, June 18, 1933).

In Puerto Rico, the AFL lent support to US imperialism by colonizing the indigenous labor movement, setting up the Federación Libre de Trabajo as a partner organization, and undercutting the work of the Puerto Rican independence movement. Samuel Gompers, then head of the AFL, supported citizenship for Puerto Ricans explicitly as a counterbalance to the threat of independence (Hearing before the Committee on Pacific Islands and Porto Rico, United States Senate, Sixty-Second Congress, Second Session on H.R. 20048. May 7, 1912: 19-20).

As J. Sakai observes, whereas the AFL followed a politics of racist exclusion, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) chose instead a politics of co-optation, expanding efforts at integration whenever it saw a threat of independent organizing, while at the same time limiting the capacity of oppressed nationalities to organize within the white-settler dominated unions: "The colonial proletarians could only be controlled by disorganizing them--separating their economic struggles from the national struggles of their peoples, separating them from other Third World proletarians around the world, absorbing them as 'brothers' of settler unionism, and placing them under the leadership of the Euro-Amerikan labor aristocracy" (Sakai, J. Settlers: the Mythology of the White Proletariat from Mayflower to Modern. 4th edition. PM Press, 2014, p. 196). In the case of New Afrikan workers, "The CIO's policy, then, became to promote integration under settler leadership where Afikan labor was numerous and strong ... and to maintain Jim Crow in situations where Afrikan labor was numerically lesser and weak" (Ibid., p. 197).

AFL-CIO in Massachusetts

In 2017, the President of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, Steven A. Tolman, wrote a letter supporting legislation aimed at banning BDS in Massachusetts (bills S.1689/H.1685).

In 2021, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO posted a statement supporting the national AFL-CIO's police-controlled "reforms" aimed at undercutting the growing movement to disaffiliate police from labor organizations. According the statement, "Unions still have a responsibility to represent members they believe are wrongfully accused, but the framework challenges local unions to look at the merits of an officer's actions when considering whether to defend them [...] The union framework wouldn't seek to alter or change any department rules regarding what members have a responsibility to report, and it wouldn't involve police department supervisors." In other words, the reforms the AFL-CIO supports are those based solely on the voluntary action of other police within the same union. (See also: here.)

8 Beacon St., 3rd Floor, Boston, MA 02108

Back to main page.